NZ First MP seeks harsher penalties for young reoffenders despite youth crime drop

A New Zealand First MP's proposed law aims to penalise young criminals by using a demerit point system similar to driving offences, despite data showing a drop in youth crime. 

New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball's Member's Bill drawn from the ballot aims to keep track of youth criminals and dish out consequences depending on the type of crime and the overall number of demerit points they get. 

Ball said it would enable one-time offenders to "learn from their mistakes and be given the necessary support and guidance they need" and ensure that reoffenders "are held to account and face more serious consequences".

Recent figures show that between 2010 and 2018, there was a significant drop in the number of youth who committed a crime, with offending rates dropping by 55 percent for 10-13 year olds and 58 percent for 14-16 year olds. 

The Ministry of Justice figures released in August 2019 showed a similar trend for young Māori appearing in the Youth Court, with almost 1200 fewer young Māori appearing over the same period - a reduction of 55 percent.

The number of 16-year-olds who reoffended within 12 months dropped from 53 percent in 2015-2016 to 43 percent in 2016-2017 - down 18 percent.  

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the Labour Party caucus will have a "good examination" of what's been proposed and decide whether the current system is delivering the appropriate consequences for youth offenders.

"If you have a look at the falling youth crime rate in New Zealand, clearly we're doing something right at the moment," he said. "But look, let's have a look at it as an idea."

New Zealand First MP and Minister for Children Tracey Martin defended the Bill, explaining how the purpose of it is not to "rank children" but to make sure the right services are in place for youth offenders.

"This is not about those children - this is about the system and how the system is currently not supporting them until it's too late and they're inside the youth justice sector," Martin said.

"How can we put a system in place that says, hang on a minute, you've seen this child on the street at 11 o'clock at night three times in the last month - why is nobody going into the home and finding out what's going on?

"We want to start supporting them earlier and that's what I believe Darroch's trying to achieve. I want us to have this conversation because I think there's an opportunity here."

Ball, New Zealand First's law and order spokesperson, said a demerit point system structure has been already effectively used in New Zealand with traffic offences.

Demerit points are given for breaking the road rules, including speeding and breaching driver licence conditions. If you accumulate 100 or more demerit points in any two-year period, your licence can be suspended for three months.

Ball described it as a "simple system" that would be "effective against the increasing numbers of youth who think they can get away scot-free and face few, if any, real consequences in the current youth justice system".